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Trump Overruled Advisers; Trump under Fire over Meeting; Bahamians Told to Leave U.S.-bound Ferry; U.S. Extracted Spy from Russia; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) is Interviewed about Impeachment. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 9, 2019 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[13:00:09]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, the president under fire for inviting the Taliban to Camp David on the anniversary week of 9/11, even as he throws out peace negotiations.

And a CNN exclusive, why a top U.S. spy in Russia was extracted during a highly secret intelligence operation.

Plus, desperate Bahamians who boarded a boat bound for America after Hurricane Dorian destroyed their homes, told to get off because they didn't have the right documents to enter the U.S.

And the Air Force orders a review of its travel policies after crew members make controversial bookings at a Trump property. Today the president denies knowing anything about it, but adds, they have good taste.

We start with President Trump preparing to leave the White House next hour for a campaign rally tonight in North Carolina. The president now under heavy criticism for inviting the Taliban to Camp David for peace deal negotiations on the anniversary week of 9/11, only to call the meeting off in a tweet at the last second citing a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member last week.

All of this while on Capitol Hill the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee prepares to vote to move even closer to formal impeachment proceedings.

Our Kaitlan Collins is in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the president is heading later today.

And, Kaitlan, we are learning that President Trump overruled the objections of some key advisers when he planned the Taliban meeting in the first place.

Who did he overrule, do you know? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not many people

agreed with the president when it came to this, not only on the venue, but also on the tactic. As far as the strategy of this, we know that the National Security Adviser John Bolton has thought for some time now that in these peace talks that the Taliban essentially was having too much leverage here, but he was also someone who disagreed with holding this venue -- this forum at Camp David, as well as the vice president, Mike Pence, who they both advised the president that holding this summit with the leaders of the Taliban on the week of the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack was not a good idea, was not going to good optics. But, of course, our reporting shows that, in the end, the president overruled those advisers, telling the president that he shouldn't move forward with it in that way until, of course, they scrapped the plans altogether.

Now, what led to the president wanting to host this summit, Brianna, was that August meeting at Bedminster where the president was for the summer vacation where they essentially had a meeting with his national security advisers to go over the status of these peace talks. We're told by sources the president was frustrated by where they were, and he thought that if he got in the room with the leaders of the Taliban, came face to face with them, that he would be able to employ those deal maker in chief abilities that he says he has and be able to extract more concessions with them. That's why he wanted to meet with them.

And then, of course, picking Camp David was a pretty last-minute decision made by the president just in the last week. And he was the one wanting this venue, even though there were several people pushing back against it.

One of those who didn't push back against it was the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who's been really supportive of the president. It's essentially been his guy who's been helping lead the negotiations here. And though the president said that right now these talks are off, Brianna, we do have sources telling us that right now dates for a new meeting are being discussed currently.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that.

Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is a former Army commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army. He's also a CNN military analyst and he's joining us now.

And you had this tweet out, sir. You said, I'm confused regarding the security strategy of leaving the Iran deal that was working, offering Kim Jong-un a presence on world stage without concessions, cancelling Russian sanctions when they're still in Ukraine, conducting talks with the Taliban while they attack Afghans, starting a trade war with China.

That's a long list. What concerns you the most as a national security threat here?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would have been a lot longer, but for the constraints of Twitter, Brianna.

The thing that concerns me today is the Taliban deal. And that's something that they have been trying to put together for several months, much to the -- to the surprise of many people in terms of where the Taliban is, where the United States are, what kinds of things we're offering. And when you're talking about that kind of context and those kind of challenges in a very complex situation of a war that's gone on for 18 years, you know, you just can't insert yourself into something like that.

The talks have been going on for several months in terms of trying to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, as you well know. And to say, hey, I'm going to insert myself with the deal-making skills that I've learned as a real estate executive, when you're talking about nations that are dealing with culture and personalities and values and context and a war that's been going on, it's very difficult to insert yourself with a strategy that will overcome all those challenges.

[13:05:06]

In each one of the things on my list that I put on that tweet, there are the same kinds of complexities dealing with various players within the world stage. And it isn't all about economic advantage or money or the win-win. It has to do with a whole lot of other global alliances and connections.

KEILAR: So we know that the president actually decided to invite the Taliban to Camp David even though he was getting objections from National Security Adviser John Bolton, from the vice president. I mean what did -- what did you think about him breaking with them on that?

HERTLING: Well, I think when you look at more of the details, and they're -- they're starting to come out more and more, this was not something -- he may have invited them, but I think there was contention from the very beginning. Remember, the Taliban are attempting to represent what they call the Islamic State of Afghan. They are also dealing with President Ghani, who is the current governmental leader of that country, who isn't very fond of the Afghan -- or the Taliban and the Taliban's not very fond of them. And Ghani has been excluded from many of these talks.

So to talk about pulling all of these elements where you don't have the personalities matching and you don't share trust in an agreement into one room at the last minute and throwing a president into this mix that doesn't have the background on what has been talked about in Doha for the last several months, it's a recipe for disaster.

All of that concerns me. We all want to see ourselves extricated from Afghanistan, but it should go with some factors that are applied to the situation versus just a complete withdrawal, which I think the president is interested in for political purposes.

KEILAR: You heard Kaitlan reporting there that now there's this possibility, or they're looking at having, really, I guess, continuing with negotiations.

HERTLING: Yes.

KEILAR: But do you think -- I mean do you think that's even possible, or do you think that negotiations are dead?

HERTLING: Well, the -- the Taliban negotiators tweeted out something this morning that seems to indicate they've lost all trust in President Trump and the American government. So it's going to be very challenging. And, again, these kinds of things are called a summit for a reason. They're at the very top of the negotiation. That's when everything else has been decided and coordinated, and it doesn't seem like that's been the case when you're talking about the last-minute surprise of trying to pull different negotiators together to figure out the final elements of the deal. So, no, I'm -- I'm not real -- I'm suspect that they're going to pull a summit or any kind of mass meeting together within the short term.

KEILAR: All right, General Hertling, thank you so much for your insight on that. We really appreciate it.

HERTLING: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And I want to get to the Bahamas now. Dozens of people who had nowhere to go after their homes were destroyed in Hurricane Dorian board a ferry headed for the United States and then they heard this message.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All passengers that don't have U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark.

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KEILAR: And that is what they did. Desperate families looking for help turned away. According to CNN affiliate WSVN, the ferry confirmed the U.S. Customs and Border Protection called them at the last minute and ordered them to get people without U.S. visas off the boat, but CBP officials say that it was actually the ferry company that decided to order the evacuees off of the boat.

Let's go to CNN correspondent Rosa Flores. She is in Lake Worth, Florida, which is outside of a shelter that has been set up there for Bahamian evacuees.

Rosa, what exactly is the story on what happened here?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brianna, there is so much confusion. We just got off the phone with the Customs and Border Protection spokesperson here in Miami, and he explains that this ferry was not on a humanitarian mission, it was more of a for-profit mission. He said that, yes, Bahamians who travel to the United States by ship are required to have a visa. However, he explains that under humanitarian circumstances, the port director usually uses discretion and waives those visa requirements.

I can tell you, I was in West Palm on Saturday when a ship arrived with about 1,500 evacuees. And CBP says that not all of those evacuees had visas. However, because that was a humanitarian mission, because they knew ahead of time that all of those evacuees were coming, CBP was able to prepare, they had extra officers on hand to process those evacuees and issue those visa waivers. CBP says that that didn't happen with the ferry.

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Take a listen.

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MICHAEL SILVA, PUBLIC AFFAIRS LIAISON, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: We would have basically made sure that everybody was properly documented and facilitated that process working with the cruise line. So why they said that, I wouldn't know. And it -- and it's really heartbreaking for them to say that to these people that have really suffered more than beyond -- beyond comprehension.

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FLORES: Now, CNN has made several attempts to reach the ferry, and we have not been able to reach them for comment.

Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Rosa, thank you for that report, in Lake Worth, Florida.

And now to a CNN exclusive.

Why the U.S. extracted a top spy from inside Russia, in part because of concerns the president's actions would expose the asset.

Plus, the Air Force ordering a review of its travel after questionable trips to Trump properties.

And, moments from now, lawmakers and mayors will pressure the president to take action on guns, but I'll speak with someone who says Congress can do two simple things.

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KEILAR: Now to a CNN exclusive. Jim Sciutto has new reporting on a highly secretive intelligence operation by the U.S.

Jim, tell us what you're learning here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge tell me that in a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the U.S. successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest level covert sources inside the Russian government. Knowledge of this Russian source's existence was highly restricted within the U.S. government. According to one source there was, quote, no equal alternative inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A person directly involved in the discussion said that the removal of the Russian was driven in part by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence, which could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy. The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and then Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the president, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in this matter. At the time, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the asset.

To be clear, this was not the first time they were concerned about the asset being exposed. At the end of the Obama administration, U.S. intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets given their length of their cooperation with the U.S. This according to a former senior intelligence official. Those concerns grew in early 2017 after the U.S. Intelligence Committee released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which said that Putin himself had ordered that operation. The Intelligence Committee also shared a classified version of the report with the incoming Trump administration, and that included highly protected details on the sources behind the intelligence.

Senior U.S. officials, I'm told, considered extracting at least one Russian asset at that time, but did not do so, according to the former senior intelligence official. Then the meeting with the Russians happened in the Oval Office. That raised new talks and concerns in the intel community continued to grow in the period after Trump's Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov.

KEILAR: And the administration, Jim, is responding to this? What are they saying?

SCIUTTO: They are.

First, before I get to the response, I should note that weeks after this decision in July 2017, there was another meeting that raised concerns in the intelligence community. That's when the president met privately with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. You may recall that at that meeting he took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter's notes. Afterwards, I'm told, that intelligence officials again expressed concern that the president may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia. This according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intel community's response to that Trump-Putin meeting.

So, to be clear, it was not one incident, it was a series of incidents over time that contributed to this decision.

Now, to your question, Brianna, the administration's response -- I spoke to certainly the White House, but also to the agency, a U.S. official said that before the secret operation, there was media speculation about the existence of such a covert source and such coverage or public speculation poses risk to the safety of anyone a foreign government suspects may be involved.

However, this official did not identify any public reporting to that affect at the time of this decision and CNN could not find any related reference in the media.

Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN, and I'm quoting, CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false.

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Misguided speculation that the president's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, quote, CNN's reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.

However, Brianna, I should say, this removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to me by five sources who served in the Trump administration, the intelligence agencies and Congress.

I should also note, Brianna, that CNN is withholding several details about the Russian spy to reduce the risk of the person's identification.

KEILAR: I mean this was an asset of considerable value. What is the cost of losing something like that?

SCIUTTO: It's a big deal at an important time. It's left the U.S. without one of its key sources on the inner workings of the Kremlin and the plans and thinking of the Russian president at a time when tensions between the two countries have been growing. The U.S. intelligence community considers Russia one of the two greatest threats to U.S. national security, along with China. A former senior intelligence official tells me, quote, the impact would be huge because it is so hard to develop sources like that in any denied area, particularly Russia, because the surveillance and security there is so stringent. This official adding, you can't require a capability like that overnight.

It's a big deal, this removal, Brianna.

KEILAR: It's a big deal.

Great reporting. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

KEILAR: And here to discuss is former CIA official Phil Mudd.

I mean how concerning is this to you, Phil?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there's two separate pieces here, one, the issue about the -- about the spy who was, the term we would use is exfiltrated (ph), that is taken out of Russia. And then the secondary issue, which I have questions about, about how the White House handles classified information on the question of the significance of the spy. I can't overestimate this.

Look, if you're looking -- let me give you a specific example, Brianna. If you're looking at what the Russians are doing in Syria years ago, as they enter Syria military, you can look on satellite photographs and see how the Russians are moving in. maybe you can intercept Russian military communications in Syria. But to understand what we call in the intel business plans and intentions, what the adversary is thinking, you need a human source. You need somebody in the Kremlin saying, this is why we're going in and these are our goals. That is really, really tough to get.

KEILAR: And so as we're told that there were concerns that the president and his administration mishandled intelligence and that's part of the reason that this spy had to be extracted. I mean think back to this time, right, when we knew that the president had met with Lavrov, we knew that he'd met with Kislyak, and we knew that he had said things that he should not have said, and you heard from White House officials who were trying to downplay that.

But in hindsight now, what does that tell you?

MUDD: I think there's a couple issues we need to think about. First, let me take you inside the room here. The likelihood the president would know the identity of the spy, doubtful.

So even if he wanted to speak to --

KEILAR: But -- so what is it, Phil, it was that he -- but knowing information can also reveal a source, right, a certain type of information.

MUDD: Sure. Sure. I want to make sure that we keep clear on what we're talking about. If you're asking the question about whether people at the FBI or the CIA should be concerned, not only about how the president handles intelligence information, but about how he has conversation about a tough intelligence issues, like North Korea, I'd say, guaranteed, they don't like the way he talks about intelligence and handles it.

If you talk about whether on this specific case the president of the United States was a factor in the exfiltration (ph), the decision to exfiltrate, I'd have questions about that.

Remember the timeline. Jim's reporting that there were already concerns under the Obama administration. I guarantee you, regardless of who the president is after Obama, those concerns are going to continue.

KEILAR: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much.

MUDD: Thank you.

KEILAR: House Democrats are taking a dramatic new step toward impeachment proceedings.

Plus, the Air Force ordering a review after crew members stay at a Trump resort. And now the president has responded.

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KEILAR: Congress is back today following a six-week-long summer break, and fresh on the minds of many Democrats is impeachment. In a dramatic, new step, the House Judiciary Committee says it will vote on a resolution on Thursday to lay out impeachment procedures against the president. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she supports it.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Congressman, thank you so much for coming to talk to us about this.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL) : Absolutely. Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: There are some Democrats who are trying to make a distinction. They say that there's a difference in supporting an impeachment inquiry, which as I understand you support --

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes.

KEILAR: Versus supporting the full impeachment process. But do you really think that Americans make a distinction?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, thanks for having me on.

You know, when I was home for this summer recess, you know, I thought that people really understood the difference and they actually want an investigation to happen and expose wrongdoing.

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For instance, when they see the president, you know, profiting off of